The Visitation,
Painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448-1494),
Painted in 1491,
Tempera on Panel
© Louvre Museum, Paris / Wikimedia

The Visitation,
Painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448-1494),
Painted in 1491,
Tempera on Panel
© Louvre Museum, Paris / Wikimedia

Gospel of 19 December 2021

Saint John leapt in Elizabeth's womb

Luke 1:39-45

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.

Reflection on the Painting

Our painting by Domenico Ghirlandaio depicts The Visitation, our Gospel reading of today. Painted in 1491 (see the Roman numeral date on the right), we see Elizabeth kneeling in front of Mary. An arched window behind them reveals a city in the background, which scholars think might be Rome, as it features the Pantheon and a triumphal arch. What is highly unusual in this painting is how the two side figures (Saint Mary Salome on the right with her hands folded in prayer and Saint Mary Jacobi who is seen looking out of the picture to the left), are cut off. It gives this painting an almost photographic, snapshot feel, as though the artist just caught the moment when Mary and Elizabeth were embracing.  Note, too, the frieze decorated with pearls and shells (allusions to Mary's purity) and the golden brooch of Our Lady decorated with further pearls and a large ruby in the centre (a hint of Jesus' future Passion). 

Today’s gospel reading describes the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth. But it is also the first meeting between Jesus and John the Baptist, whom Mary and Elizabeth were carrying in their wombs. We are told that John, though still unborn, leapt in the womb, sensing the presence of Our Lord in the womb of Mary. John was already so fine-tuned to the presence of Jesus that he could sense it. He could ‘pre-sense' the ‘pre-sence' already!

John teaches us how we can sense Jesus when He is close to us… And Jesus is always close! We can be so absorbed and preoccupied with our daily lives that we don’t always see or sense Jesus. Advent is a beautiful time of year when we can get more in tune with Jesus and try to be aware of His presence… even before he is born. Just as John could sense the presence of the Lord even before birth, so are we asked to sense the presence of Jesus around us in the days before His birth…. 

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